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screen-shot-2017-03-01-at-11-32-29-amIt was fun to compare notes last week on “I, Lawyer” – the podcast of Fredrik Svärd, a Swedish lawyer and journalist and the creator of Legaltech.se, a top legal blog in Sweden that focuses on the intersection of law and technology.

Fredrik endured his own bout of burnout in the legal world, and lived to talk about it, so our conversation turned into a healthy give and take around experiences in law and interacting with other lawyers under often difficult circumstances.

Don’t worry, we decided against conversing in Swedish.  But it was interesting speaking with a lawyer from another country, and Fredrik has a very Scandinavian wryness and hard-boiled-ness about him – he’s been there himself and asked tough, pragmatic questions about strategies for surviving law and the realities of leaving the profession.

You can listen to the podcast here (on Soundcloud), or here (on Fredrik’s blog.)  And click here to access all the episodes of Fredrik’s podcast, “I, Lawyer” in iTunes (you can also subscribe so you never miss another one.)

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Please check out The People’s Therapist’s legendary best-seller about the sad state of the legal profession: Way Worse Than Being a Dentist: The Lawyer’s Quest for Meaning

And now there’s a new Sequel: Still Way Worse Than Being a Dentist: (The Sequel)

My first book is an unusual (and useful) introduction to the concepts underlying psychotherapy:Life is a Brief Opportunity for Joy

I’ve also written a comic novel about a psychotherapist who falls

in love with a blue alien from outer space. I guarantee pure reading pleasure: Bad Therapist: A Romance

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The Gunner

looney_tunes_mad_as_a_mars_hare_-_screenshot“I don’t think…I mean…I’m not someone it would be fair to call a gunner…do you think?” My client asked, a quiver of trepidation in her voice.

“Of course not,” her therapist reassured her. Because that’s what I’m paid for.

No, that’s not why I reassured her. I did so because my client is a nice person and gunners are loathsome pariahs, denizens of the fens and low places, nothing like her at all. There might not be much that everyone in this country agrees on at the moment but we all (especially lawyers) know one truth to be self-evident, which is that everyone hates gunners and no one wants to be one.

So it’s worth posing another salient query: What is a gunner?

Part of the answer, at a law firm, is obvious – a gunner is someone who wants to make partner. That’s the whole point of “gunning” at a law firm. If you are already a partner, you’re busy doing your partner thing. But if you’re an associate, the goal is to make partner. That’s what a gunner is gunning for.

The term “gunning” further suggests, however, that you’re pointing your gun at someone else (or several someone elses) and (as is normally the case when one points a gun at someone) therefore mean them no good.

And that’s another part of the answer – and what we all hate about “gunners” – not merely that they’re gunning for (i.e., want to make) partner (we all want to make partner (mmmm…money good!)) It’s that, on the way to that goal of making partner, they’re gunning (i.e., want to eradicate) you (or anyone else standing in their way.)

That definition sounds straightforward – and loathsome – enough. But how does one actually know for a fact that someone’s a gunner, that he would nonchalantly pop some caps into a colleague’s back, then prance jauntily over said individual’s bleeding corpse in pursuit of partner-hood…as opposed to simply a hard-working, ambitious, talented lawyer on his way to success in his chosen field? Sometimes the distinction is not as obvious as it sounds.

In my client’s case, for instance, she stood accused of gunner-hood, but felt the charge was unjust. Even if I weren’t on her payroll, I’d be inclined to argue she has a point. Judge for yourself:

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screen-shot-2017-01-28-at-4-14-02-pmIt was especially fun getting together in a recording studio in midtown Manhattan a couple weeks ago with my old friend, Frazer Rice, to compare notes on life and work and everything else, former lawyer to former lawyer.

screen-shot-2017-01-28-at-4-17-25-pmFrazer is a great guy, and a great interviewer, and we managed to cover a lot of ground.

Click here to listen to the podcast.  It’s about 40 minutes long, and we used that time to unpack a lot of the madness of the legal life and work life and lots of other facets of being human.

Thanks, Frazer.  Let’s do it again sometime.

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Please check out The People’s Therapist’s legendary best-seller about the sad state of the legal profession: Way Worse Than Being a Dentist: The Lawyer’s Quest for Meaning

And now there’s a new Sequel: Still Way Worse Than Being a Dentist: (The Sequel)

My first book is an unusual (and useful) introduction to the concepts underlying psychotherapy:Life is a Brief Opportunity for Joy

I’ve also written a comic novel about a psychotherapist who falls

in love with a blue alien from outer space. I guarantee pure reading pleasure: Bad Therapist: A Romance

screen-shot-2017-01-23-at-12-01-56-pmI was delighted to be included as a contributor to a piece on Law360 last week – entitled “How to De-Stress and Find Balance as a Busy Lawyer.” My sense is that my views positioned me as somewhat of an outlier among the other contributors…

Here’s a link to the article.  It might be behind a paywall.  So, just to tantalize you…here’s a brief excerpt (though, by all means, please read the whole piece):

screen-shot-2017-01-23-at-12-05-53-pm

Thanks to the author of the piece, Aebra Coe.  She was a good sport when I sent her my response to an inquiry soliciting advice on how lawyers should handle stress.  She wrote:

“Will, I love your response! Not at all what I expected, but definitely a great point.”

David Lat can probably relate.  I tend not to hold back when asked a question.

==========

Please check out The People’s Therapist’s legendary best-seller about the sad state of the legal profession: Way Worse Than Being a Dentist: The Lawyer’s Quest for Meaning

And now there’s a new Sequel: Still Way Worse Than Being a Dentist: (The Sequel)

My first book is an unusual (and useful) introduction to the concepts underlying psychotherapy:Life is a Brief Opportunity for Joy

I’ve also written a comic novel about a psychotherapist who falls

in love with a blue alien from outer space. I guarantee pure reading pleasure: Bad Therapist: A Romance

All By Myself

9987116d453904225ab5b80d3b4da749Isolation is a popular topic with my lawyer clients. There are so many varieties of biglaw loneliness I hardly know where to start explicating the phenomenon. One client summed up his particular variant:

“They stuck me on a matter that had gotten lost in the shuffle – some rainmaker too busy bringing in business neglected it, so we lost a critical preliminary motion. After that, everyone knew the case was hopeless, and since I was low man on the totem pole, it became mine. Now everything that’s already gone wrong is officially my fault, and no one’s around to help – as in, if you ask for ideas, you hear crickets. I sit in my office, staring at documents, unable to motivate. A calendar on my wall at home has hundreds of tiny boxes I check off each day until November 12th, 2018. That’s when I pay off my last loan – my final day in law.”

To add to the festive ambience, this guy’s firm is in the midst of endless renovations, which they’re taking in stages, floor by floor. Some floors are left mostly-renovated, others barely-renovated, and the stragglers still untouched. My client was assigned to a half-renovated half-floor, nearly empty except for some staff attorneys who toil down the hall in an un-renovated former conference room.

It’s creepy. And according to firm gossip, theirs is one of those “sick buildings” where the ductwork is clogged with black mold or toxic dust or something insalubrious, especially on the as-yet-not-renovated floors. Those could be unfounded rumors. Or not. He hunches beneath fluorescent lights and stained acoustic ceiling panels, trying to breath through his nose.

Law firms are lonely places by design, or at least biglaw firms are, since they’re typically located on multiple floors of sterile glass towers. One partner client was assigned to her office renovation committee. The new philosophy, she says, encourages walls of glass, to bring light in and cheer the place up. So now, as a biglaw attorney, you work in a fish bowl, with everyone looking in as you pretend to review something while surreptitiously playing Candy Crush, or merely ride out an anxiety attack. In a “modern” glass-walled law office, lawyers retreat to the bathroom if they need to cry.

A relatively recent factor contributing to biglaw alienation derives from the fact that biglaw firms aren’t really “firms” anymore – they’re closer to conglomerates or loose federations.

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trump12This blog entry is presented less as a political opinion than a medical opinion, but the political implications are staggering. I believe America has elected a sociopath as its next President, and, as a “mental health professional” that concerns me – in fact, it terrifies me.

What is a sociopath?

The current diagnostic term (per the new DSM-5) for the condition I’m referring to is “anti-social personality disorder” and, if you care to, you can go to the manual and read a long description of the symptoms. It all sounds like Donald Trump, almost comically so, from “inflated and arrogant self-appraisal” to “glib, superficial charm.”

I’m the first to admit there’s a worrisome aspect to mental health diagnoses, which is that they appear subjective. There’s no blood test, no pathogen you can stick under a microscope or obvious physiological indicator of disease. There’s just a description of human behavior and emotions. That hardly seems medical.

Nonetheless, the irregular human behaviors and troubling emotions that define mental illness – including sociopathy – are real and, they exist on a spectrum, so when they are severe, they can be very serious indeed. We all feel down once in a while, but if you witnessed the effects of catatonia in someone suffering from major depression, its severity might startle you. Likewise, knowing someone slightly “kooky” is different from encountering someone suffering from the hallucinations and delusions produced by severe schizophrenia.

Sociopathy is unique and troubling in part because of a peculiar paradox: the more severe the condition, the more difficult it can be to detect. It’s hard to see what isn’t there, and sociopathy, unlike schizophrenia or depression, is about the absence of normal controls on a person’s behavior. It’s easier to notice something new, that doesn’t belong in someone’s psyche, than something we take for granted that’s missing. And what’s missing in a sociopath is the very humanity that might make it hard for him to hide his condition.

So what is sociopathy, really? In brief, it amounts to the absence of a conscience. Whatever it is within us that we call empathy or caring or concern or connection to others, doesn’t exist in a sociopath.

My father, a psychiatrist who ran a secure ward at a state mental hospital, used to quip: “You know the true sociopath because he’s the one you lend money.”

What Dad meant was that the most severe sociopath is the one who can even fool a psychiatrist. And it really happened sometimes – my father used to recount in amazement stories about sociopaths talking their way right out of secure mental wards.

How do they do it? A sociopath has the amazing ability to tell you exactly what you want to hear. It’s as though they possessed empathy – astonishing powers of empathy – in the sense that they can intuit your desires, and sense what it is that you need to hear them say in order to produce a predictable emotional response. This creates a frightening ability to control others simply through insincere words and the inauthentic play-acting of emotions.

A moment after they tell you something – and this is the truly chilling aspect of sociopathy – a sociopath might be with someone else and say precisely the opposite of what they just said to you, with appropriate emotions displayed, simply because they sense that other person needs to hear something else and the sociopath wishes to control them, as well.

A sociopath will tell anyone whatever it takes, complete with apparently sincere emotions, to create the desired response in them, and thus influence their actions.

This phenomenon is sometimes called being a “pathological liar” and I’ve run into examples where the lying itself becomes the end goal – sociopaths who concoct stories to see how long they can fool people, then revel in being found out, as if that heightened the pleasure of the entire enterprise of deceit.

It’s been said that all criminals – at least, criminals with the intent to commit their crimes, perhaps not criminals who had to steal from necessity, due to poverty or desperation – are sociopaths. That’s because it is our consciences that keep us from doing things we know to be wrong. As members of a community, we sign on to a social compact, an understanding with other people, to care for one another, at least to the minimal extent that we agree not to commit acts we define as crimes because they hurt others.

The most dangerous sociopaths are the ones who are less concerned with fooling people or even stealing from people than they are with controlling people. They don’t want to be found out. They want the lies to go on forever so they can continue controlling those around them….

Which brings us to Donald Trump, our next President, and why I believe he’s a sociopath, and thus very dangerous, especially in his new role leading our nation.

First observation: Donald Trump tells lies without the least hesitation.

The lies are near-constant, and on their face, many are absurd. The lie about President Obama not being born in the United States could be disproven in a moment by posing the simple thought problem: Where would Obama’s mother, the teenage daughter of middle-class Midwesterners scraping by on modest salaries in Honolulu, fly to in order to give birth outside her own home country? Fiji? Japan? The Philippines? Chile? Any alternative, non-US locale she could have chosen (ignoring the question of why would she would go to all the trouble of choosing one in the first place and then somehow faking a US birth certificate) would involve an expensive, lengthy flight across thousands of miles of ocean just to place her near-penniless, American, teenage self for no particular purpose, outside the US. Likewise, the endlessly repeated lie that Obama is Muslim (particularly offensive, because it implies there is something wrong with being Muslim) is also flatly absurd, since Obama was raised by his Christian mother and grandparents and barely met, let alone knew, his Muslim father, a visiting graduate student from Kenya. It is absurd to imagine Trump actually believes such nonsense.

However, Trump knew those lies would produce the desired response in an audience of racist, anti-Muslim extremists who hated Obama, and so Trump told those lies. And these are only two of dozens and dozens of outrageous, hateful mistruths he initiated or perpetuated before, during and even after the campaign. Trump knew he could control people, excite them, fire them up, by telling them exactly what he sensed they wanted to hear. He continues to lie, and lie and lie and lie, in order to give whoever is listening to him a chance to hear whatever it was they want to hear and thus fall under his control.

Second observation: Donald Trump has no fixed values, morals or ethical precepts.

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b775975a44e3d7a4395cfdebcc7db7cdI just turned fifty, so I can tell you about old. Old isn’t merely the words “Mission: Impossible” conjuring memories of a show you watched as a kid in 1973 on a “color console tv set” the size of a freezer chest. Old transcends. Old abides. Old pushes through to not caring if everyone else’s memories zip directly to a movie with Tom Cruise hanging off a cliff. Old concedes Jean-Luc Picard a place in the pantheon beside Kirk and Spock, but remains firm in its belief Peter Graves and the miniature reel-to-reel tape player that self-destructed after five seconds were the height of awesome, Tom Cruise or no Tom Cruise. Old is about “values.” Old doesn’t haggle over this stuff.

What made the original Mission: Impossible show so much fun (other than its co-starring Martin Landau, which already made it fun) was the bizarrely improbable nature of the missions. They were supposed to be “impossible” to carry out, but in reality that was the least of the issues. The “mission” generally took place in some made-up Eastern European country with a name like “Vladistan” with a grey, oppressive capital city (“Vodkagrad” sounds good) and there was always an evil dictator holding a good, democratic leader guy captive in Vodkagrad (not that I remember details – I was seven years old, chomping a peanut butter and jelly sandwich during much of the action.) I mostly recall that a couple of the IMF (“Impossible Mission Force”) agents hung out in equipment rooms tapping phone lines and fiddling with electronic gadgets, glancing nervously at their watches, while the others (including Martin Landau!) wore disguises so convincing you only realized who they were when they peeled off plastic masks. How cool was that?

But my point – and I do (despite advancing age) have a point – is that I’ve recently, in my role of psychotherapist to the lawyers, been assigned “missions” by biglaw firms, requests for my services, that leave me feeling like Mr. Phelps watching wisps of smoke rise from the little reel-to-reel. I’m a publicity whore, like any author who ever sold a book (or tried to) and yes, I might be termed a whore-whore as well, in some respects, like any public speaker who ever pocketed a fee. Points conceded. But on those occasions when I’ve managed to get hired to speak at conferences and panels and industry events and even at law schools, everything has come off if not without a hitch, then at least without a major conflagration. Invite me over, serve me lunch, treat me nice, and I’m a total pro, no trouble at all.

Yet, somehow, when it’s a biglaw firm that comes calling for my services, everything goes all pear-shaped. If you don’t believe me, go ahead and be your own Mr. Phelps – check out a couple “impossible missions” that came my way recently, and decide for yourself whether you’d “choose to accept” them. I’m still scratching my head, long after the tape self-destructed. To wit:

Impossible Mission #1: Death 

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